N. T. Wright, Galatians (Commentaries for Christian Formation)

Wright, N. T. Galatians. Commentaries for Christian Formation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2021. xix+419 pp. Hb; $39.99.   Link to Eerdmans  

This new Galatians commentary is Eerdmans’s first in the Commentaries for Christian Formation series, edited by Stephen E. Fowl, Jennie Grillo and Robert W. Wall. The goal of the commentary is to serve the church by “showing how sound exegesis can underwrite preaching and teaching, which in turn forms believers in the faith” (ix). This is not a homiletical, pastoral commentary. The commentary does serious exegesis and thoughtful reflection on the text. Considering the general editors, this series may look like a theological commentary like the Two Horizon series (Eerdmans, with contributions by Fowl and Wall). Unlike the Two Horizons volumes, Wright integrates his theological observations into the commentary itself rather than in a second section. Wright is not doing “theological interpretation of scripture” as practiced in that series. For example, he observes Galatians could teach “there is one holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church,” and Paul would agree with this statement. Yet Wright thinks we should never substitute a “creedal checklist” for the specificity of Paul’s own argument in his own situation (5).

N. T. Wright, Galatians CommentaryGalatians is a dense argument and theologically challenging. As Wright explains in the introduction to the volume, his goal is to “get inside those tight packed paragraphs and see what makes them work as they do, or at least as Paul hopes they will” (xiv). How does all this relate to Christian formation? Wright assumes “Christian formation means the shaping of communities, and individuals within them, so that they reflect more fully and faithfully the fact that the Spirit of Messiah Jesus is dwelling in their midst (corporately) and within them bodily (individually)” (3). Christian formation is more than the spiritual or theological equivalent to a team building day at work, or a football coaching session. It is discovering, sometimes through painful practice, what it means to be the Messiah’s people, a single anointed community. This requires more than a rational analysis of the text, the “what did it mean at the time,” although it requires that hard work be done properly. What it meant must move toward what it means now through prayerful and pastorally sensitive work of pastors and teachers.

In the introduction to the commentary, Wright states Galatians is not about “how to be saved from sin in order to go to heaven.” In fact, Paul hardly mentions sin in the letter and salvation is not mentioned at all. The book of Romans is about sin and salvation, but these are not the main topics of Galatians. Galatians is about who should be counted as a part of the single family of God (9). That Galatians is about sin and salvation results from the Reformation’s response to the medieval Catholic view of purgatory and indulgences. All this is classic N. T. Wright, drawing from previous work on Paul’s theology, in his more popular level Surprised by Hope. As he says, “if you change your eschatology, everything changes.” If Galatians is not about “life after death” but that the new heavens and new earth are “here and now,” then the book is no longer about medieval purgatory and salvation from sin. Galatians is about “how you can tell, in the present time, who were the people of God; who will be vindicated as the true Israelites in the new age to come” (14).

But it is not as though he does not believe that God saved people from their sin. This is absolutely clear from the book of Galatians. God demonstrated his love by sending his son for our sins. “This love—freely given, greatly returned, lavishly shared—is at the heart of Christian formation” (21).

Wright devotes the second half of the introduction to the situation in Galatia. He states his view that the book was written to southern Galatia, to churches visited by Paul on his first missionary journey in Acts 13-14. Paul wrote Galatians after the first missionary journey but before the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 (21). This differs from some other recent commentaries (Keener, for example, argues for southern Galatia, but dates the book after the Jerusalem council). Wright does not offer any arguments in favor of this view, but refers interested readers to several historical and archeological studies as well his Paul: A Biography for the details. (See also my comments on Galatians and Act 15.)

Instead of engaging in protracted arguments about the destination of the letter, Wright wants to think more deeply about “the social and political situation,” what he calls “the real-life situation” of the Galatian readers. He sees Roman imperial ideology and the demand to worship Caesar as Lord as a serious challenge for gentile believers in Jesus as Messiah. Jews were exempt from these demands, so gentile Galatian believers could claim to part of the Jewish exemption from the imperial cult. They are not part of a new religion, but part of an ancient (and exempt) religion. This view worked in Corinth (Acts 18), but it did not work in southern Galatia. A new group of non-Jews claiming the Jewish exemption would threaten that exemption for the local Jews. Local Jews would therefore want to separate from the gentile Christians. Even some zealous Jews from Jerusalem, the men from James, could see Paul’s mission to the gentiles as “colluding with Pagan wickedness” (28).

The solution was to compel gentile believers to convert fully to Judaism, starting with circumcision. This showed that the new movement was indeed genuinely Jewish and showed the “puzzled or suspicious local pagan authorities that the claim to the exemption from normal imperial religious practices was genuine, however unexpected and unwelcome it might have been” (29).

Paul’s answer is not to offer Christianity as a superior alternative to Judaism. That reading reflects eighteenth century History of Religions thinking (and I would add, those categories really didn’t even exist as alternatives when Paul wrote Galatians). Instead, Paul insisted on offering a messianic eschatology, resulting in personal and communal transformation (32). Wright develops this in three main points found in Galatians:

  • First, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has done what he has always promised: he has launched his new creation (32). The present evil age is coming to an end and the age to come has already begun with the death and resurrection of the Messiah. Therefore, to get circumcised denies the new creation has really begun (33).
  • Second, God’s Messiah Jesus has fulfilled the divine purpose for Israel in his death and resurrection and has accomplished the new exodus. This is the ultimate rescue from the ultimate enemy, sin and death. It would shock Jewish readers to learn that Israel finds its fulfillment through a crucified Messiah. But even more shocking, the Torah has done its job and is now set aside. The Torah accomplished its purpose, and its time is complete. To force non-Jewish believers in Jesus as Messiah to keep Torah for its own sake, or to look like good Jews to the Roman magistrates or to the anxious, zealous Jews from Jerusalem must be firmly resisted (36).
  • Third, God has given his spirit to be the transformative energy for his new people. The spirit is an advanced gift from the future inheritance (38). As a result, all of God’s people belong at the same table. The church’s Jewish neighbors would not understand this, and maybe even other Jewish believers in Jesus as messiah would not understand. Even the “men from James” from Jerusalem didn’t understand the importance of the unity of all believers, whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free.

The main body of the commentary begins with a new translation drawn from his The New Testament for Everyone. Unlike some exegetical commentaries, Wright does not comment on lexical or syntactical issues, along with his translation. In fact, his translation is periphrastic, occasionally sounding more like The Message than the NRSV. This is not a problem since the goal of the translation is to express Paul’s ideas in language “for everyone.”

After a brief introduction to the main theme of the unit, the commentary precedes paragraph by paragraph divided into verses and clauses. Although there are occasional references to Greek, these are always in transliteration and will not distract readers who do not know Greek from understanding the commentary. He occasionally interacts with modern secondary literature in footnotes. But as he says in the introduction, he does not engage in “zealous footnoting that is now common in commentaries.” He recommends recent commentaries by Moo, deSilva, and Keener for that sort of thing. His primary goal is to explain what Paul meant, and then what it might mean for today. This book is not a compendium of what other commentaries have already said.

Even though this is a “Christian formation” commentary, it is thoroughly historical, sociological commentary. Wright does the exegetical work required (“what did Paul say”) and places Paul in the proper historical context, both in terms of Jewish backgrounds and the Greco-Roman world of the Galatian churches. More than most commentaries, reading the introduction is critically important. Wright consistently ties his exegesis back to the three main points from the introduction describing the situation of the Galatian churches.

Because this is N. T. Wright, prose is well-written and will be enjoyed by both laypeople and academics. He highlights main points with judicious use of italics and bold print. The lack of argument in the book will frustrate some academic readers, but footnotes to Wright’s many other books on the Apostle Paul are sufficient. However, it is unnecessary that one reads the 1500-page Paul and the Faithfulness of God to understand this commentary. Although it helps to have a working knowledge of the last 40 years of Pauline studies, one can appreciate the argument of this commentary without working through Wright’s Paul and his Recent Interpreters.

In the end, this Galatians commentary achieves the goal of clearly explaining the text of Galatians as it would have been understood in the original historical and cultural context (as described by Wright). The commentary does make a significant contribution toward Christian formation by challenging readers to hear and apply the text in a modern context.

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Michael B. Shepherd, A Commentary on The Book of the Twelve (Kregel Exegetical Library)

Shepherd, Michael B. A Commentary on The Book of the Twelve. Kregel Exegetical Library; Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2018. 523 pp. Hb; $38.99.   Link to Kregel Academic

Michael Shepherd is associate professor of biblical studies at Cedarville University. He has previously published several articles and monographs, including Daniel in the Context of the Hebrew Bible (Peter Lang, 2009) and The Twelve Prophets in the New Testament (Peter Lang, 2011).

Shepherd, exegetical commentary on the Book of the TwelveThe introduction to this to this volume of the Kregel exegetical commentary series presents an argument for the unity of the Book of the Twelve, which is the motivation for the whole commentary. Shepherd previously published an article on the “Compositional Analysis of the Twelve” (ZAW 120 (2008): 184–193). He acknowledges the work of Paul House, The Unity of the Twelve (Sheffield: Almond, 1990) and two monographs by James D. Nogalski, Literary Precursors to the Book of the Twelve (BZAW 217; de Gruyter, 1993) and Redactional Processes in the Book of the Twelve (BZAW 218; deGruyter, 1993) and his Smyth & Helwys commentary on the Book of the Twelve.

What sets Shepherd’s approach to the Book of the Twelve apart from other similar studies is that he is not interested in the redaction of the twelve minor prophets, but the compositional strategy of a single author drawing together various prophetic books into a single Book of the Twelve. He never refers to this person as an editor; for Shepherd, he is an author or a composer. The best analogy for his approach to the Book of the Twelve is the Book of Psalms. The book is a collection of individual psalms, but it clearly has an overall literary unity with clear theological themes connecting the parts, including superscriptions and seams.

Besides an analogy to the book of Psalms, Shepherd points to Sirach 49:10 as the earliest reference to the twelve minor prophets as a unit. Acts 13:40 and 15:15 also cite texts from minor prophets as simply “the prophets.” All early Jewish and Christian canonical lists count the Twelve as one book. Perhaps most compelling, the Masoretic text does not mark the center verse in the minor prophets, but one appears at Micah 3:12 as the middle verse of the Book of the Twelve.

Because of his interest in the unity of the Book of the Twelve, he is not interested in biographical details or the lives of the prophets. He makes no attempt to reconstruct the ministry of any individual prophet, and he does not spend much time at all setting the prophet into a particular historical context. For Shepherd, it is not a matter of a book’s historicity, but of the books “unique and revelatory depiction of things.”

For Shepherd, Hosea 3:4-5 is a programmatic statement for the entire Book of the Twelve: “For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.” He identifies two themes: God’s judgment of Israel and a future messianic salvation. He argues Israel cannot be restricted to just the northern Kingdom in Hosea 3:4-5. Only the original Israel was united under their “Lord and God” and “David their king.” he considers this verse be dependent on Jeremiah 30: 8-9 (23). This is intriguing, but there are differences. For example, Hosea anticipates Israel will “return and seek the Lord” (יָשֻׁ֙בוּ֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וּבִקְשׁוּ֙ אֶת־יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֵיהֶ֔ם) whereas Jeremiah has “serve the Lord” (וְעָ֣בְד֔וּ אֵ֖ת יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיהֶ֑ם). The two verses use distinctly different verbs, although the phrase “the Lord their God and David their king” is the same. Even in English, this is not a quotation. I would be happier if he employed language like “this alludes to Jeremiah.” usually studies of intertextuality would question the direction of the illusion. Perhaps Hosea used Jeremiah, or Jeremiah used Hosea depending on when the books were written. Shepherd does not discuss these issues because it doesn’t matter. The author of the Book of the Twelve composed the book after all the prophetic books were written. It doesn’t matter whether Hosea predates Jeremiah because the author of the Book of the Twelve had all of this material available to him and he inserted the programmatic verse into Hosea 3:4-5.

Another question I have about this programmatic verse is its placement three chapters into the Book of the Twelve. For Shepherd, the eschatological context of Hosea 3 created the “perfect opportunity for the composer” to introduce his program from Jeremiah 30:9. Hosea 3:4-5 looks beyond any return of the northern Kingdom of Israel from Assyria or even the return of Judah from Babylon. For Shepherd, the verse looks forward to the restoration of Israel’s lost blessings in the land at a future time when the people will seek both the Lord and David as their king. This cannot be historical David or a resurrected David, but a Davidic king who will build the temple and reign over an everlasting kingdom (53).

Shepherd suggests three criteria for identifying the activity of the final composer of the Book the Twelve. First, he identifies seams which connect the end of one book to the next. Second, in these seams he finds development of a programmatic text for the Book of the Twelve, Hosea 3: 4-5. Third, when the first two criteria are both present, there is some evidence of dependence on the book of Jeremiah. Shepherd provides a list of each of the seams with a brief demonstration using the three criteria (34-36, with additional details in the exegetical commentary). Several examples will suffice for this review.

First, at the end of Joel, the “Lord dwells in Zion” (Joel 3:16 ET) and the Amos begins with “the Lord roars from Zion” (Amos 1:2). Shepherd then suggests this seam alludes to Jeremiah 25:30, “The Lord roars from on high.” In addition, Jeremiah 25:15-26 is a judgment oracle on the nations (including Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Moab, Ammon, five of the six nations mentioned in Amos 1:3-2:3).

Second, Amos 9:11-15 describes the restoration of the fallen tent of David. The future remnant will “possess Edom” (9:12). The book of Obadiah is entirely concerned with judgment on Edom. Amos’s restoration of the tent of David picks up on the programmatic statement from Hosea and includes both judgment and (future) salvation. Obadiah itself relies heavily on Jeremiah 49:7-22. This is a well-known literary dependence; Obadiah has a longer version, suggesting “the direction of dependence was from Jeremiah to Obadiah” (28). This means Amos 9:11-15 was added by the final author of the Book of the Twelve in order to connect the end of Amos to the beginning of Obadiah and to underscore his theology of judgment and future restoration. Shepherd says Amos 9:11-15 is “a prophecy of restoration unparalleled anywhere in the book of Amos” (200), and the phrase “restore the fortunes” is common in Jeremiah 29:14; 30:3; 31:23; 32:34; 33:7 (201).

One place where Shepherd’s theory for the unity of the twelve minor prophets may be helpful is an explaining the origins of Zechariah 9-11, 12-14, and the book of Malachi. As is well known, each of these sections begins with the phrase “The oracle (מַשָּׂא) of the word of the Lord.” scholars often suggest that these three units circulated separately and were edited into the Book of the Twelve at a later date. Shepherd himself says “the book of Malachi is the third section to Zechariah 9-11 and Zechariah 12-14” (480).

The body of the exegetical commentary shows his method throughout. Since he is interested in the final form of the Book of the Twelve, there is no formal introduction for each book. There is no effort to set the book into an original historical context or offer any sort of “life of the prophet.” Each book is broken into individual units, usually full chapters. Sections begin with a new translation, with alternative translations in brackets citing the Targumim, Septuagint, Syriac, and Dead Sea Scrolls. Additional footnotes discuss syntactical or lexical issues. Shepherd’s exegetical commentary is a clear explanation of the Hebrew text, with no transliteration. Footnotes point to secondary literature, additional lexical or syntactical issues. Although this is a single volume on all twelve minor prophets, Shepherd’s exegesis is detailed. Occasionally, his commentary on individual book ends with a conclusion, or a section entitled “teaching and preaching” the book.

The final pages of the commentary are entitled “final thoughts on teaching and preaching the twelve.” As expected, he recommends that anyone preaching or teaching a series on the Book of the Twelve should focus on the compositional strategy of the entire twelve minor prophets. He observes “arbitrary obsession with application has become so out of hand that all the genres of the Bible have been flattened into one: that of a manual or a handbook for life” (512). He suggests “the drive to make scripture practical causes the reader to miss the vision of the book of the Twelve for Christ in his Kingdom Rather than giving our church is the full tour of the biblical text” (512).

Conclusion. Most scholars who study the minor prophets will be interested in Shepherd’s method for detecting seams between the books and his argument for the unity of the Book of the Twelve. Although I expressed some questions and reservations above, his argument for a final author who drew the twelve minor prophets together is intriguing and convincing, although I am more incline to use the word editor. Since Shepherd covers all twelve minor prophets in a single volume, the depth of this exegetical commentary should not be compared with recent NICOT commentaries (for example, Mark Boda’s 935 pages on Zechariah or Mignon Jacobs’s 377 pages on Haggai and Malachi). But this Kregel Exegetical Commentary is more detailed than the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (for example, Daniel Timmer’s 229 pages on Obadiah, Jonah and Micah).

 

Other Commentaries in the Kregel Exegetical Commentary series:

Thanks to Kregel Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

 

 

 

 

S. D. Snyman, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah (Tyndale Old Testament Commentary)

Snyman, S. D. Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2021. xxii+139 pp. Pb. $20.00   Link to IVP Academic  

This new volume in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series replaces the original 120-page volume by David W. Baker, originally published in 1988. S. D. Snyman is research associate in Old and New Testament studies at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa. He previously contributed a commentary on Malachi in the HCOT series (Peeters, 2014).

Snyman, Nahum, Habakkuk, ZephaniahThe commentary has a brief general introduction to the prophets. Since these prophets were well acquainted with the political world beyond Judah, the reader must be informed about the world situation and the internal politics and cultural practices in Judah. Although much of the prophecy in these three short books concerns the future doom of the nations, they are theological and part of the overall canon of scripture. Despite this observation, Snyman does not connect these three books intra-canonically, and he has little to say on how these three obscure prophets contribute to the overall canon. The major exception is a brief note on Habakkuk 2:4 in the New Testament.

Nahum (thirty-nine pages) is all about bloodthirsty revenge on the Assyrian Empire and the fall of Nineveh. He suggests a range of dates after 663 B. C. and before the fall of Thebes in 612 B.C. based on Nahum 3:8-10. Snyman sets the historical context from Tiglath-Pilesar III through the reign of the Judean king Manasseh. He suggests the book has a high literary quality and only briefly deals with occasional challenges to the unity of the book. With respect to theology, Nahum presents a God who is a God of justice, manifest in wrath and vengeance. Snyman suggests the book is written for the individual who is on the brink of losing hope in the midst of violence and oppression.

The style of Habakkuk (forty-six pages of commentary) suggests a liturgical setting. Nothing is known about the prophet, although there is a legend Habakkuk was the son of the Shunamite woman (2 Kings 4:16) or Isaiah’s watchman (Isa 21:6, cf., Hab 2:1). Habakkuk is also mentioned in the apocryphal story of Daniel, Bel and the Dragon. As Snyman comments, “none of these have historical value” (46). He dates the book to the rise of Babylon and the first deportation of Judeans, between 605 and 597 B.C. He only briefly mentions Bernhard Duhm’s fourth century B.C. dating based on the Chaldeans as the Kittim. Although chapter 3 is a different genre than the first two, Snyman does not see any evidence for multiple sources. If a later editor added the poem in chapter three from another source, it was “skillfully done” and the book is still a literary unit with a “climax of a confession of faith and a renewed trust in God” (49).

Regarding the theology of Habakkuk, the book does indeed address theodicy, the question of why God permits evil. Habakkuk receives a complicated answer. First, humans are incapable of understanding God’s way of handling world affairs. Second, the righteous must “keep faith.” Although there is a promise the wicked will not endure, this may not be a satisfying answer for a contemporary reader.

Snyman dates Zephaniah (forty-six pages of commentary) to the reign of Josiah, 639-609 B.C. He sketches that history and attempts to narrow the date further by pointing to Zephaniah 1:8 (the royal household wears foreign clothes). There is no reference to Josiah’s reforms in the book, so “it might even be the case that Zephaniah’s prophecies prompted Josiah to begin his reforms even before the discovery of the book of the Law” (95).

For Snyman, Zephaniah is “thoroughly theological in nature” (96). The book presents the Lord as the God of creation who is about to destroy the earth because of the sins of Judah and Jerusalem. Judah is indifferent to God, and Zephaniah accuses Judah of idolatry and worshiping the Lord in inappropriate ways. God will execute his judgment on the “day of the Lord,” the most important theme in Zephaniah. In this case, the Day of the Lord refers to the soon destruction of Jerusalem. Yet in all of this, there is a glimmer of hope because the Lord is also the God of Salvation. In the final section of the book, the Lord declares his love for his people and promises to gather them and deal with all their oppressors (3:14-20).

Like other Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, the body of the commentary focuses on the English text, only rarely referring to the Hebrew text (in transliteration). All secondary sources are cited in-text and there are no footnotes. Nevertheless, Snyman’s commentary is a model of careful exegesis and analysis of the text presented in clear prose which illuminates the text of these three obscure prophets for both profession and laypersons.

 

Other reviewed commentaries in third Tyndale series:

NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

 

Robin L. Routledge, Hosea (Tyndale Old Testament Commentary)

Routledge, Robin L. Hosea. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. xxxiii+181 pp. Pb. $25.00   Link to IVP Academic  

This new volume in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series replaces the 1989 volume by David Allan Hubbard. Routledge previously published Old Testament Theology: A Thematic Approach (IVP Academic 2012) as well as several articles on the prophets.

Routledge, HoseaThe thirty-six-page introduction dates Hosea to 750-725 B.C., making Hosea a later contemporary to Amos. This implies the book was completed before Josiah’s reforms, and therefore is not part of the so-called Deuteronomistic redaction. In fact, Routledge suggests Hosea may have influenced Deuteronomistic movement in the late seventh century.

The immediate context for the book is the resurgence of the Assyrian Empire under Tiglath-Pilesar III, but also the syncretic worship in the northern kingdom Israel. Routledge includes a few pages outlining what can be known about Baal worship from Ugarit and other sources. Although this worship may have involved cult prostitution, it did not necessarily include the idea of hieros gamos, “sacred marriage.” The problem is Hosea is Israel’s syncretic worship which confused Yahweh and Baal.

The introduction sets Hosea in the larger context of the Old Testament. Although Routledge does not find arguments for a unifying redaction of the Book of the Twelve convincing, that Hosea is the first book of the collection may be significant. The book is clear: Israel’s unfaithfulness will result in punishment, but unfaithfulness will not ultimately affect Yahweh’s love for Israel. The book hopes for a final restoration in the future. This exile/restoration theme resonates throughout the Book of the Twelve. He also traces connections between Hosea, Deuteronomy, and Jeremiah (suggesting Jeremiah may have made use of Hosea). He briefly discusses several theories of composition, but it ultimately favors the unity of the book. Routledge finds it “unnecessary to accept the view that the book was compiled even later, for a posting exilic Judah during the Persian” (p. 19; contra Ben Zvi).

In the preface to the commentary, he observed that the book of Hosea is challenging for the commentator because it includes some of the most difficult Hebrew in the Old Testament. It often differs from the Septuagint, leading to suggestions that Masoretic text is corrupt. On the other hand, Routledge thinks Hosea’s peculiar dialect was unfamiliar to the Septuagint translators, resulting in more unusual translations than other books. The poetry in Hosea is not conventional and it makes a great deal of use of similes, metaphors, and wordplay. In addition, the judgment speeches form a judicial framework which may have been unfamiliar to translators.

With respect to the theology of the book, Routledge highlights Israel’s sin, their impending judgment, and their ultimate hope. The people no longer know the Lord (4:1), so their worship and sacrifices are unacceptable. They are stubborn like an unruly animal (4:16). But the Lord is unwilling to utterly destroy Israel, so the book is filled with a message of hope for a restoration of the broken relationship (11:10-11).

Hosea is the first prophet to make an explicit connection between the covenant and marriage, idolatry and adultery. Routledge argues Gomer is a promiscuous woman (rather than a prostitute) and was faithful at the beginning of the marriage. This better fits the prophetic view that the relationship between the Lord and Israel began well. He also thinks the woman in 3:1 is Gomer, so that chapter three is a restoration of the marriage to its original state. He also briefly deals with criticism of Hosea’s marriage metaphor which describe it as “patriarchal gender stereotyping,” misogynistic, as advocating sexual violence and humiliation toward women, and even as pornographic. He admits it is patriarchal (as the whole ancient Near East was patriarchal), but it goes too far to call the marriage metaphor misogynistic since it was intended to describe Yahweh’s relationship with Israel. The marriage metaphor emphasizes God’s sovereignty and the consequences for sin, but also divine love and vulnerability. Routledge covered this material in his article, “Hosea’s Marriage Reconsidered” (Tyndale Bulletin 69 (2018): 25–42).

A third theological issue in Hosea is the idea of hesed, which is mentioned in Hosea more than any other prophetic book. In the rest of the Old Testament, hesed is a divine attribute, but in Hosea it most often relates to human conduct (p. 32). Israel has been unfaithful to the covenant and mistreated those need hesed. In this section Routledge distills his much more detailed article, “Ḥesed as Obligation: A Re-Examination” (Tyndale Bulletin 46 (1995): 179–96).

The body of the commentary covers the fourteen chapters of Hosea in 144 pages. The book is divided into major sections (1-3; 4-11; 12-14) and shorter pericopes. Commentary units begin with a short setting the context, then a running commentary covering a few verses per paragraph. The commentary is based on the English text and often compares major translations, but Routledge comments on Hebrew (appearing in transliteration). Commentaries and other secondary literature are cited intext, footnotes are used for additional discussion or cross references. The commentary is concise and clear. The final section of each section is entitled “meaning” and provides a summary and theological comment on the section. These comments occasionally touch on biblical theology and Christian significance, but Routledge is more focused on the theology of Hosea.

Conclusion. Like other newer volumes of the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary, Routledge’s commentary on Hosea is clear and concise, shedding light on the text of Scripture for the pastor, teacher or student preparing to present Hosea to their congregations. It is not overly distracted with critical issues or syntactical minutia, yet Routledge demonstrates mastery both critical issues and the Hebrew text in order to focus on what Hosea says.

 

Other reviewed commentaries in third Tyndale series:

NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

Thomas Renz, The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (NICOT)

Renz, Thomas. The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. NICOT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2021. xxxix+703 pp. Hb; $56.00.   Link to Eerdmans 

Thomas Renz is the rector of Monken Hadley. Previously, he taught Old Testament and Hebrew at Oak Hill Theological College (1997-2009). Renz published a revision of his 1997 University of Bristol dissertation as The Rhetorical Function of the Book of Ezekiel (VTSup 76; Brill, 1999). He has contributed many articles on these books and a monograph on Hebrew Poetry, Colometry and Accentuation in Hebrew Prophetic Poetry (​KUSATU 4; Hartmut Senner, Waltrop 2003). This new volume of the New International Commentary on the Old Testament replaces O. Palmer Robertson’s highly respected commentary on these three obscure Minor Prophets (Eerdmans, 1990).

Nahum, Habakkuk, and ZephaniahRenz states in the preface he tried to confine himself to matters which “illuminate our understanding of the received Hebrew text” (xv). Initially he did not want to be overly concerned with text-critical or redactional issues. But as the commentary progressed, he realized some discussion of source, form and reduction criticism was necessary. But these are not what drives this commentary. Technical details appear in the commentary under the heading “composition” or in the footnotes. This will make the commentary accessible to pastors without being overwhelmed by technical details.

In the twenty-page general introduction, Renz suggests prophetic books were written soon after they were uttered, and he is skeptical about reduction criticism in various sources theories suggested for these books. It is uncontroversial to speak of the unity of the twelve Minor Prophets even if there is no actual agreement on what constitutes that unity. Renz suggests that Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah were grouped together because they share the same setting, the changing of the empires regarding the life of Judah. “Nahum speaks to a people for whom Assyria seemed invincible, predicting the fall of Nineveh and the end of its empire. Zephaniah speaks into the period when Assyrian domination was less keenly felt, but the Neo-Babylonian Empire was not yet on the horizon. Habakkuk addresses the problem that the divinely promised rise of the Neo-Babylonian Empire merely substituted one evil for another.” (p. 20).

The introduction also has a brief sketch of the implied historical setting of these three books, the late Neo-Assyrian and early Neo-Babylonian Period. Nahum dates before 612 B.C., Habakkuk a bit later, just after the rise of Neo-Babylon and Zephaniah to the reign of Josiah. This gives a range of 660-600 B.C. for the three books.

Each commentary section uses the book’s superscription as an introduction to the book (thirty-five pages for Nahum, twenty-four pages for Habakkuk, and twenty-seven for Zephaniah). The first section, Profile of the Book, begins with the superscription and moves to what he calls the “macro structure.” This is more than just an outline since Renz includes literary and rhetorical notes as well. In this section he includes language, style, redactional history, and the textual witness. In the textual witness section Renz compares the MT with the LXX, any Dead Sea Scrolls available and other versions and briefly summarizes the difficulties which emerge. For Habakkuk and Zephaniah, Renz sketches the historical setting of the book (omitted for Nahum). However, for Nahum he has an extended discussion of the development of the book.

Each of the individual introductions conclude with the section on the rhetorical function of the book divided into five sections. First, he summarizes the message of the profit in its original context, then he places it into the context of the Twelve Minor Prophets in the larger biblical canon.

Following this is a history of interpretation. Renz begins this section with the Dead Sea Scrolls. For example, in 4Q169 the pesher interpretation of Nahum turns Assyrian brutality into Hasmonean cruelty under Alexander Jannaeus. He briefly comments on the fragmentary Zephaniah pesher (4Q170) but 4QpHab is missing from the history of interpretation for Habakkuk (Renz mentions it under textual witnesses for Habakkuk). For Christian interpretation he comments briefly on ancient fathers, Renaissance, Reformation, and modern critical writers. Renz does not intend this as an exhaustive survey and these books are not often mentioned in ancient sources.

Finally, he discusses the place of the individual prophet in the church today. Nahum celebrates God’s sovereignty and justice, and Nahum invites readers to join the celebration. The book of Nahum becomes a token of God’s final judgment over evil. Remarkably, Nahum is a book of comfort for people who are suffering at the hands of evil, people who are helpless abandoned in afraid. Habakkuk invites the reader to reflect on the breakdown of the good order, the weakness of the Torah to restore justice and the role of God in this world. Renz suggests Habakkuk teaches that thoughtful, engaged prayer, informed by scripture, can help discern what is really going on in an evil world. Zephaniah is clear wealth and power count for nothing in the face of God’s judgment. In fact, there may be benefits to being powerless.

The body of the commentary begins with a new translation. This includes extensive textual and lexical notes often spanning several pages. For example, On Zephaniah 2:5-13 the notes run eight pages (through note nnn). The translation is often stunning. Renz strives for clear yet moving English phrases which reflect the heart of the Hebrew text. I would like to have his translation gathered into a few pages so one could read the whole of the book in a few pages.  Following his translation is a section commenting on the composition of the section, mostly form and redactional notes, but Renz also comments on rhetorical strategies in these brief sections.

The commentary is verse-by-verse with remarks on nearly every word of the verse. Renz provides clear exegesis of the Hebrew text, with all Hebrew appearing in transliteration. A non-specialist will have no trouble following the commentary. Virtually all secondary literature appears in extensive footnotes. Renz makes extensive use of recent European commentaries such as Jörg Jeremias on Nahum (BKAT; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2019), Heinz-Josef Fabry on Habakkuk (HThKAT; Herder, 2019), Huber Irsigler on Zephaniah (HThKAT; Herder, 2002), and Johannes Vlaardingerbroek on Zephaniah (HCOT; Peters 1999). Renz’s commentary may be the only access to the resources for many English readers.

Each commentary unit concludes with a reflection which draws a few conclusions and occasionally connects the section with the larger canon of scripture. For example, reflecting on is exegesis of Habakkuk 2:4-5, Renz asks, “who are the righteous in Habakkuk?” The righteous are those who are victims of injustice and the inability of the Torah to set things right (p. 294). This leads him naturally into a brief discussion of the use of Habakkuk in Romans 1:17. Righteousness from God as a matter of Faith from beginning to end. Habakkuk is to continue to trust God and cling to his commands despite the apparent uselessness of such obedience.

There are several excurses scattered throughout the book: The Relationship between Nahum 1:15 (2:1) and Isaiah 52:7 (106-09); The Destruction Nineveh (129-30); Different Hebrew Terms for Lion and Lion Imagery in Assyria (141-46); The Assyrian Campaigns against Egypt (164-70); “Look You Scoffers” or “Look at the Nations” (239-41, on Habakkuk 1:5); Significant words in Zephaniah (431-32); Finding the Book of the Law (435-43).

Conclusion. Thomas Renz’s commentary on Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah is an excellent exegetical commentary which demonstrates mastery of the Hebrew text and provides sufficient historical setting to understand with clarity the text of these obscure prophets. This the most extensive commentary on Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah and will serve both the those teaching these prophets in the academy and church for many years.

 

Eerdmans has recently reprinted O. Palmer Robertson’s commentary in their Eerdmans Classic Biblical Commentaries series.

Five Questions with Thomas Renz at EerdWorld.

Reviews of other recent commentaries in the NICOT series:

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.